ESPN NFL reporter Jim Trotter first met San Diego Chargers Hall of Famer Junior Seau in 1996. Trotter had been named the team’s beat writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune when the veteran linebacker called him over in the locker room to introduce himself.
Seau gave the newbie reporter his number and told him to call if he ever needed anything. Though he thought it was a prank, Trotter eventually called and realized it was, in fact, Seau’s voicemail. After Trotter left a message and received a quick call back, he knew Seau was genuine.
Trotter, who still lives in San Diego, covered Seau throughout a majority of his career and knew him as well as anyone. Last week, Trotter’s biography, Junior Seau: The Life and Death of a Football Icon, was released. He discusses the project and his relationship with Seau, who died in May 2012, below with Front Row.
You initially turned down several requests to write a book about Seau. What made you eventually decide to author this biography?
I did turn down several inquiries to write a book about him following his death. But those close to him told me that if anyone was going to write his story, they believed he would’ve wanted me to write it. At that point, I decided I wanted to tell his story. I was clear in my own mind that it would not be a tell-all, but instead a book to explain why he was so beloved by so many people, and to explore some of the factors that might have led to his death.
How did you approach doing this book?
The process was simultaneously simple and difficult. It was simple in the sense that I had a front-row seat for much of his playing career and was familiar with his story, having already written about some of the key moments in his career. The difficulty was managing my time while also working a full-time job. Many of the interviews were done around my work schedule, and in 2013 I took a brief leave of absence from Sports Illustrated [Trotter joined ESPN in May 2014] and used my accrued vacation to do more research and begin the writing process.
What surprised you most in your research?
The depths of the problems he was dealing with. Although we were friends, I didn’t hang out with Junior, so I didn’t witness many of the demons he was fighting. But once I started doing the research, I was blown away by what I learned. He clearly was hurting. He was living on the edge, whether it was drinking, gambling, partying, whatever. His personality also was changing; he’d be smiling and laughing one minute, then have a blank stare and looked depressed the next. But in the snap of your fingers he’d return to the happy-go-lucky guy.
I also was struck by his admission to his ex-wife and daughter that he no longer knew how to feel or be loved. That’s an incredible statement from someone who, for much of his life, gave so much love and happiness to those he came into contact with.